Friday, June 15, 2012

Chicago didn't benefit much from the false prosperity of the 2000-2008 years

Another month another highly critical editorial by Aaron Renn that over-emphasizes Chicago's weaknesses in a conservative news source (Second-Rate City, City Journal). To be fair his podcast sounds much more reasonable than the article itself.

I intended to write a much longer reply but Greg Hinz beat me too it (Is the 'Second-Rate City' hindered by a diverse economy?, Crain's). The most interesting part of both of these articles is probably the reader comment section / Internet discussion that it has inspired.

Renn periodically joins Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox as the Three Musketeer's of conservative / "free-market" oriented urban commentary. Kotkin and Cox are too blatantly ideological to be taken seriously. Renn, at least, makes valuable observations - even if he tends to de-contextualize his criticisms and offer little in the way of constructive ideas.

The irony with all of these conservative-leaning commentators is that they invariably praise cities that have disproportionately benefited from Federal policies and massive fiscal subsidies - be they for cheap housing (sprawl in Phoenix and Atlanta), energy (Texas/Oklahoma), financial de-regulation (New York) - or an avalanche of corporate money to Federal lobbying (Washington D.C.). As I've suggested, these pundits completely dismiss the context of most of their observations - the fact that Chicago is basically Detroit on the far South and West Sides. You can't compare that kind of history - which the rest of the country willingly chose to abandon - to places like Renn's hometown of Indianapolis or an Austin, Texas or a lily white Seattle.

Chicago is far too interesting and complicated to characterize it so simplistically. It has far too much potential to dismiss so opportunistically. Renn sounds more and more like he just enjoy's cherry picking the City for some personal reason.

Chicago's greatest asset is reality... which most of the rest country continues to avoid. Despite all of the adversity, Chicago remains one of the most important economic cities in the world. It continues to reinvent itself precisely because it is more self-aware than anywhere else in America. Other cities may boom and bust, but in the long run Chicago is one of the most well position cities in the world.

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